Rugby Union: Stransky's injury adds to Tigers' troubles

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The Independent Online
STRANSKY FOR England? Just at the moment we do not even have Stransky for Leicester. The South African outside-half at the centre of an increasingly farcical debate over World Cup eligibility - he may be able to find touch, but he cannot find any proof of the existence of an alleged English-born grandfather - has pulled out of this afternoon's Tetley's Bitter Cup quarter-final at Richmond with knee trouble. His withdrawal leaves the Tigers' double ambitions seriously exposed, especially in the light of Austin Healey's on-going brouhaha with the Rugby Football Union.

The loss of Healey, suspended by his club for treading on the face of Kevin Putt during the recent Leicester-London Irish Premiership match, was a serious enough setback in itself, but Stransky's absence has forced the Midlanders into a major back division realignment for their perilous date at the Madejski Stadium. Jamie Hamilton plays at scrum-half, with Pat Howard moving from inside centre to stand-off and Jon Stuart lining up in midfield.

Richmond are themselves a man short in the centre, thanks to Allan Bateman's hamstring problems, but Jason Wright should at least bring some All Black- style physicality to the proceedings. The big New Zealander played for Otago before deciding to take the English shilling at the start of last season and as John Leslie, his fellow "scarfie" from Dunedin, showed at Twickenham last weekend, they know a bit about midfield play down there in the South Island.

Certainly the Reading-based Londoners need something to revive a flagging season. "I expect us to improve significantly on our last performance against Leicester, in the Premiership just over a month ago," said John Kingston, the Richmond coach, yesterday. "In fact, I will be very surprised if that does not happen. Outstanding as the Leicester defence is, I don't think it's impregnable."

Neither is Richmond's, it appears; Leicester put 50 points past Kingston's side in the course of two clear-cut Premiership victories this season. But the wear and tear of fighting a war on three fronts - league, cup and Five Nations - is certain to weaken the Tigers in body, if not in spirit, and the return of a pumped-up Craig Quinnell to the opposition ranks this afternoon is the last thing they want to see.

Tomorrow's ties throw up an intriguing derby between Wasps and London Irish at Loftus Road and another hairy-chested battle for physical supremacy between Newcastle and Saracens, the holders, on Tyneside.

Wasps have gone into reshuffle mode as they continue their pursuit of a second successive Twickenham final: they run Joe Worsley on the open- side flank for the suspended Paul Volley and reintroduce Kenny Logan and Rob Henderson to their back division. There is also a front-row place for Adam Black, who replaces Darren Molloy on the loose head.

But the most intriguing selection, or non-selection, concerns Peter Rogers, who is increasingly being seen by the Welsh as a Five Nations prop in imminent waiting. Rogers came through last week's Wales A victory over Ireland with no ill effects, but Dick Best has given Rob Hardwick the tight-head position for Irish and named Kris Fullman on the bench. If Graham Henry, the Welsh national coach, wanted to see his favourite uncapped prop in action before naming his side to face France in Paris next weekend, Best has done him no favours whatsoever.

Newcastle, far more secure on the pitch than off it these days, would dearly love a shot at a cup semi-final to take their minds off the trauma of Sir John Hall's financial withdrawal from north-east rugby. "We've been a bit shabby in training recently, what with Five Nations commitments and all the uncertainty over our future, but the spirit in the squad is excellent," said Gary Armstrong, their scrum-half. Both sides are likely to go in at full strength, although there is a doubt over Stuart Legg, the Newcastle full-back.

There is no doubt over Jason Leonard, who won his 68th England cap at Twickenham last Saturday. His twisted ankle definitely keeps him out of the Harlequins side for today's tie at Gloucester. That will ease his Andy Deacon's load as he returns for the home side after injury.